It feels like an eternity since Bruce Weber last carried the Illinois basketball team to the national championship game in 2005. Since then, college basketball played in the state of Illinois has been anything but exceptional.
After starting the season 6-0 last year, the Illini had a mediocre conclusion to its schedule and finished 19-13 with a trip to the NIT. That was the highlight of college basketball success in the state last year. Southern Illinois, Illinois State, Northern Illinois, Northwestern and DePaul — the most successful basketball programs in the state — all failed to reach the national tournament.
Unable to keep the top basketball prospects within the state, Illinois basketball has slipped drastically in the college ranks. In fact, ESPN has the state’s premiere programs outside of its top-50 this year. The Northwestern Wildcats are listed at No. 54, while the Illini pop up at the 57th slot.
DePaul (94) barely cracked the top-100.
It doesn’t appear that Illinois will be making its return to basketball prominence anytime soon — or this season, at least.